Bringing Heroes Home, With Honor and Respect
In February 2009, I left my family and our new tropical island paradise home of Okinawa for the sand-swept landscape of Kuwait. My assignment was to serve as the mortuary and patient affairs chaplain for Marine Forces Central Command (MARCENT) in Kuwait. This 6 month Individual Augment (IA) assignment was unlike any other I had served during my 24 years in the military and a genuine learning experience. As always, amid the challenges of life, a Higher Power was at work.
This deployment was truly joint-service in nature. I was the only Sailor assigned to Abdullah Al Mubarak Air Base, assigned to a Marine command, working with airmen, Marines and soldiers nearly every day. I worked with Army mortuary teams, Air Force and Navy medical teams, lived and worked on a joint Kuwaiti and U.S. Air Force base, and was supported by Army chaplains. I have a new appreciation for my sister services and a genuine love for military personnel from all branches.
Every single fallen warrior and civilian was rendered honors as their remains came through our air base on their final flight back to their homeland. Australian, British, Latvian, Nepalese, Philippines, Polish, and Sri Lankans came through. No matter what day or hour, representatives from every branch of the military were present. The Air Force and Marine air crews and those on the flight line went above and beyond the call of duty to support the Army mortuary teams. Our civilian contractor personnel did a great job too. Today?s Marine Corps still produces warriors and wins battles. America is still a nation of patriots and our young people serving today are great!
As I pause in reflection, I realize 180 days can seem like a short deployment or an eternity, depending on circumstances. Being on call for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 6 months has taught me to become more flexible: in scheduling, in sleeping, in eating, in physical training, and more prepared to deliver ministry at a moment?s notice. During this deployment, I ministered to 4 mortuary teams, ill and injured Marines, and an entire airbase, during tragedy, boredom and many light-hearted moments too. I have learned to love airmen and soldiers, in addition to Marines and sailors. I believe I have become a better person, and hopefully a better chaplain too.
LCDR Cliff Stuart is assigned to Marine Wing Support Group 17, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Okinawa, Japan. He served as a Marine from 1985 to 2000, and was commissioned into the Navy Chaplain Corps in 2000.